Directed By: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Michael Keaton Emma Stone Zach Galifianakis Edward Norton
It's somewhat daunting when a movie's been nominated for an Oscar. There's so much baggage—so much trepidation about whether you'll feel everything you'll have to feel, understand every subtle nuance the director tosses in (extra subtle is extra points in the critic's book), get every shard of subtext tucked into a smile, the frame of a door, a spike in the music…
Which is especially why I was excited about the film—until I stayed longer than I’d planned to at work, was dying of hunger at not having eating any semblance of a meal through the day, and then, the cherry on my Thursday, lost my debit card. I walked into the film craving a brains-in-the-toilet, American Pie-esque feature length, instead of the current wave-making work of art I was about to witness. Birdman seemed great in theory, too-tiring-to-cope-with-at-10:00-p.m.-on-a-weekday in practice.
I walked in, having missed the trailers—the ones I usually scramble to theatres early so I can watch—and the show had begun. Two hours later, as the credits rolled, I realised that for the first time in quite a while, I had completely lost track of time.
My barometer for a film being a good one can either be terribly complex...or equally simple. The complex formula involves—Great character construction + Splendid cinematography + Unclear plot motivation (i.e. anything but predictable) + Yada yada yada...
The simple one is this; I get annoyed at intermission. I have no desire for buttery popcorn or aerated orange sodas. I only want the film to come back on quickly, nervous without it like a shy child without mommy. Yesterday, the intermission was too long, too fraught, and not remotely mourned when it was through.
Birdman follows the life of washed-up Riggan Thomson (Micheal Keaton), who can’t fight past the barricade of the Birdman tag, a character he played eons ago and can’t live down. Encapsulating interestingly his struggle to prove wrong the widely held belief that he was ‘always a celebrity, never an actor', Riggan tries to show the world his acting chops by sinking his (rapidly depleting) funds into a Broadway show, based on a Raymond Carver play.
Enter a host of interesting characters that contest his attempts at being a 'full and true actor' on a daily basis—Emma Stone as his tech-obsessed daughter, Sam; Zach Galflaglarhglarh playing Jake, Riggan’s publicist, best friend and lawyer all rolled into one hairy ball, and Naomi Watts as the talented, pushover actress Lesley. While the film is definitely in Keaton’s Magnum Opus collective, to me, the true star of every film he’s in is Edward Norton. The case in the film is similar—Norton plays Mike Shiner, the ‘serious’ actor of the play, whose presence (and jackass attitude) amplifies Riggan’s need for accolades as an actor—something Shiner gets in spades without asking for.
Throw in the angle of Riggan’s ex-character, Birdman, speaking to him and directing him in a manner that reminded me quite vividly of the schizophrenia section of my old Psych textbook, and you have a film that’s exquisite in its palpable realness, as well as fleshed out in all the little add-ons that make a film work (in particular the jazzy, Broadway score that lines the film, and the uncomfortable but brilliant close-ups that capture every twitch of an actor’s mouth).
The thing I would change (I’m incapable of not changing something) is the ending. You know an ending doesn’t work when you see the perfect end point, and the film moves past it. Sadly, Birdman did, but I don’t think it matters much. The film is a rare one-off—managing to be Oscar worthy instead of being Oscar-formulaic. It may not run long with the Indian cinema-goers though—so don’t let it fly away before you catch it.